Australia's best hands-on foodie experiences and classes

Photo illustration: Christopher Pearce.
Photo illustration: Christopher Pearce. 

When you love food, eating isn't always enough. You want to forge a deeper connection right at the source; to touch, pick, chop, dig, knead, stir and brew.

Maybe you're hankering to rediscover those traditional culinary skills the modern world calls "artisan", or take a deep dive into a specialist craft. Or simply put your hands in the soil that grew your dinner.

From stomping grapes to butchering your own cuts, making mozzarella to foraging wild foods, hunting bush tucker to cuddling up to quails and camels, here's our guide to the best up-close, hands-on foodie experiences.

Folding dumplings at Lotus.
Folding dumplings at Lotus. Photo: Supplied

Sydney

Sausage-making from scratch

Transform a leg of NSW-reared pork or lamb into a kilogram of self-crafted sausages, under the tutelage of the meat whisperers at Argyle Smokehouse and Butchery at Rosebery's The Cannery. For $140 per person on the first Tuesday of every month, the sausage classes teach you to butcher, grind, stuff and link your snags before enjoying some with mash, a drink and a crack at the evening's Best Sausage award. argylebutchers.com.au

Enrol in dumpling school at Lotus

Learn how to shuck an
oyster.
Learn how to shuck an oyster. Photo: Chris Pearce

No need to just watch the chefs create dumplings in the open kitchens – you can try it yourself at the Lotus branches in Barangaroo and The Galeries. After kneading dough, mixing fillings and mastering the art of dumpling-folding, you'll tuck into your masterpieces with a drink. From $90 per person for 90 minutes. lotusdining.com.au

Spanish seafood night at Sydney Fish Market

Sydney Seafood School is celebrating 30 years of helping people confidently cook seafood, but there's always a festive atmosphere at its Spanish Seafood classes, which teach tapas and paella in the school's classic three-step format: watch a live demo in the auditorium, cook in a small-group class, then eat together in the dining room.The school's combination of top-notch facilities and "eat well together" philosophy, plus terrific value is why it has thrived for three decades. $140, three hours. sydneyfishmarket.com.au

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Fermentation and pickling 101

When it comes to life skills, pickling is up there with emotional intelligence and computer literacy. This comprehensive three-hour introduction at Vive Cooking School in Rosebery will transform you into an assured fermenter, confident with kimchi, seasonal vegetables and sriracha hot sauce. You'll take home all three works-in-progress. $140 per person. vivecookingschool.com.au

At Cornersmith's tomato day, class participants learn to make passata, ketchup and chutney.
For Amy Cooper story for Good Food Magazine March 2020.

Cornersmith's end-of-summer tomato party. Photo: Alan Benson

Tomato day at Cornersmith

Cornersmith owner Alex Elliott-Howery and chef and preserver Ava Stangherlin want you to enjoy tomatoes all year round, and they'll convince you over four delightful hours of bottling, drying, preserving and lessons in passata, ketchup and chutney-making at the Marrickville workshop. Brimming with community spirit and a passion for the season, this class is one of Cornersmith's most loved and bookings are now open for the 2021 season. $250; lunch and wine included. cornersmith.com.au

Cheese and tea pairing at the Tea Atelier

When cheese and tea come together, says tea sommelier and blender Liliana Algorry, complex new flavours emerge. She'll help you chase them along a heady trail of green, oolong, black, and pu-erh, paired with cheeses from Spain, France, the Netherlands and Italy. $50 assures two hours of palate pleasure at the Balmain school. theteaatelier.com.au

Easter egg workshop with Esti Garcia

Colombian-born patissier and chocolatier Esti Garcia shares his formidable skills, ethical sensibilities and technical finesse in this seasonal favourite on Saturday, April 4. For $140 you'll learn melting, tempering and painting to create a beautiful chocolate egg that'll make Faberge wish they worked in cocoa butter. vivecookingschool.com.au

Harvest grape stomping in the city

Feel the tempranillo between your toes at Alex Retief's Urban Winery in Moore Park every weekend throughout March – a rare opportunity to kick off your shoes rustic-style and participate in winemaking in the heart of the city.Wine tastings from tank and barrel with cheese, charcuterie and a bottle to take home complete the 90-minute, $100 experience. urbanwinerysydney.com.au

Trolleyd teaches participants to make a craft cocktail with weeds you’ve foraged.
For Amy Cooper cover story on hands-on food experiences for Good Food Magazine, March 2020.

A foraged Trolley'd cocktail. Photo: Supplied

Forage for your cocktail

You're not a true urban forager unless you've been taught to make a craft cocktail with weeds you've picked, by a guy in epaulettes at an old Ansett airline trolley parked beside the Cooks River in Sydney's inner west. The foraging bartenders from Trolley'd regularly team up with wild foods guru Diego Bonetto and when you've experienced one of their collaborative workshops, you'll never look at a dandelion again without seeing an aperitif. 0415 598 364; trolleyd.com

Spice-your-own rum at Brix Distillers

You're nobody without a signature spirit – just ask George Clooney – and yours comes courtesy of Surry Hills rum distillery Brix. You'll create a unique recipe by tasting and mixing various infusions at the distillery, then Brix's head distiller and creative team will transform your formula, name and design concept into two custom-labelled 700ml bottles. It's $300, and you – or your fans – can purchase extra bottles for $90 a pop. brixdistillers.com

The Golden Mile cocktail masterclass

The Kings Cross spirit (in every sense) is alive in Dulcie's, a bohemian 1930s time capsule in the former Stripperama. The neon lights and stage remain, but the pleasure on sale here now is a finely crafted all-Australian drinks list. You'll learn three signature cocktails that typify Dulcie's combined love of local produce and neighbourhood folklore, while Jono Osis and his team share eye-popping tales of gunfights and basement sex shows. It's the Cross in a glass. $75 for two hours. dulcieskingscross.com.au

Make a case at Basement Brewhouse

With 30 taps and a prolific microbrewery, Basement Brewhouse beneath Bankstown Sports Club provides space for a fully hands-on brewing education. Under head brewer Mark Neal's guidance you'll be encouraged to DIY at every stage, from "mashing in" to adding the hops. Along the way, you'll develop your palate with tastings and soak up some science in a convivial atmosphere. The happy outcome: five cases of self-made limited-edition beer – canned, labelled and delivered to your door two weeks later. $749 total for a group of up to 10. bankstownsports.com

Get dirty at Camperdown Pocket City Farm

A two-hour session from 8am (weekdays or weekends) at Camperdown's eco-farm might include weeding, planting, chicken-coop cleaning, compost-turning and further outdoor activities providing an earthy antidote to city life – while surrounded by it. Along with the satisfaction of real dirt beneath your nails, you acquire free knowledge about growing organic produce. pocketcityfarms.com.au

Pic by Tajette O'Halloran. Stomping grapes at Noisy Ritual.

Grape crushing at Noisy Ritual's Vintage Open House. Photo: Tajette O'Halloran

Melbourne

City wine harvest party at Noisy Ritual

Brunswick East urban winery Noisy Ritual does exactly what it says on the tin at its boisterous, joyous annual harvest festival where everyone gets involved in the winemaking. From stomping grapes to live music, dinners, parties and endless tastings, there's action for every budget – but our pick is the entirely free Vintage Open House day on March 29, where you can taste, touch, smell and stomp while the MoVida crew cook up paella and celebrations erupt all around. noisyritual.com.au

Be the butcher at Gary's Quality Meats

It would be hard to find a better butchery teacher than Gary McBean, a fourth-generation butcher who's been wielding the knives for 50 years. His workshops are a unique insight into his increasingly unseen traditional craft; each participant works on an entire side of organic Saltbush lamb, learning various ways of breaking down each part – shoulder, loin, leg, rack – before seasoning the cuts and chops to take home. Classes are run in the kitchen above Prahran Market (location of the family store, Gary's Meats), for about three hours and cost $490.03 9826 0815; garysqualitymeats.com.au

Free to Feed, a Melbourne social enterprise connecting people through food. Photo Emily Weaving

Join a cultural feast with Free to Feed's classes run by refugees or asylum seekers. Photo: Emily Weaving

Cultural helpings with Free to Feed

With the belief that sharing food promotes understanding, not-for-profit Free to Feed runs a cooking school with all classes hosted by refugees or asylum seekers. The instructors teach dishes from their culinary backgrounds: Palestine,Sri Lanka, Syria, Iran, Iraq and Pakistan. $99, but the human connection goes beyond a price tag. freetofeed.org.au

Friday night twilight gardening

Standard knock-off drinks will seem mundane after you've toasted the weekend with a whimsical Twilight Gardening session at the new 2000-square-metre urban farm, Acre Farm and Eatery, at Burwood Brickworks. With a spritz or beer in hand, you'll follow Acre farmer Nick Browning through the gardens, foraging for edible garnishes, treasure-hunting for herbs, planting flowers and enjoying a meet-and-feed with the resident quails before wandering past the worm farms back to the bar for dessert – freshly picked fare from Acre's strawberry wall. One hour, $45 per person. acreeatery.com.au

Making pasta in cooking classes at Italy on my mind in Melbourne. 

Learn the art of handmade pasta with Paola Bacchia.  Photo: Supplied

Pasta practice with Italy On My Mind

Paola Bacchia's intimate Italian cooking classes at her Fitzroy apartment feel like an impromptu friends' gathering, and often include her mum's recipes. Warmth, fun and lots of one-on-one instruction, plus you'll eat the fruits of your labour. $150 per person, three hours. italyonmymind.com.au

Sausage and all-grain beer making

Why were these two skills ever taught separately? You'll be learning all-grain brewing (the classic method used by the pros) and every step of the sausage-making process in a fascinating four-hour workshop from the experts at artisanal equipment store Home Make It. The $170 fee includes a mountain of knowledge, the right to devour your own snags and a $15 voucher to spend on some of the store's cool kit. Available at the Clayton and Reservoir branches. homemakeit.com.au

Heritage breadmaking at Convent Bakery

The Sisters of the Good Shepherd have long since left Abbotsford Convent, and the religion here now is honest handmade food, on the altars of the bakery's 1901 wood-fire ovens. At the Beginners' Breadmaking Classes you're urged to knead passion into your sourdough to make scones for your morning tea, pizza for lunch and rolls and loaves to take home (plus a kilo of organic flour to keep you baking). Six hours of soulful enjoyment for $190 per person, on selected Saturdays and Sundays from 8am to 2pm. conventbakery.com

Cheesemaking at The Craft and Co.

This Collingwood hub of edible industry, with its brewery, distillery, kitchen, bar and micro-dairy, is serious inspiration to roll up your sleeves. The dairy's new cheesemaking classes, focusing on burrata and mozzarella, teach wicked ways with curds and empower you to make your own cow's cheese at home. $95 for two hours; new dates announced periodically. thecraftandco.com.au

Make home-brew a hobby at Grain and Grape

For three decades, John Preston and his team have imparted deep-geek home-brewing knowledge without ever losing their approachability. Sure, beer is fun, but making it is even more fun, and their key mission is to recruit beginners to the hobby. Their free weekly Saturday brewing demos, from 9am to 1pm, urge you to taste, touch, smell, go home and keep on brewing. grainandgrape.com.au

Starward's new temporary home at Smalls Bar in Melbourne. Come to do cocktail making classes. Story by Amy Cooper. For Good Food Magazine March 2020.

A whisky class by Starward. Photo: Supplied

Whisky away with a Starward cocktail class

The Starward crew have moved out of their Port Melbourne distillery while it's being upgraded, and until April you'll find them at South Melbourne's Smalls Bar, shacking up with their coffee buddies St Ali in a collaborative pop-up. Starward is operating whisky cocktail masterclasses there every Wednesday from 6.30pm-9pm, teaching classics and local variations, with history on the side and the added enticement of a special Starward x St Ali menu of six cocktails combining grain and bean. It's $50,or $95 with a take-home cocktail-making kit. starward.com.au

Explore East Africa in Footscray

Cultural food walks with Foodie Trails penetrate Melbourne's multiple layers of international cuisine. As you explore a neighbourhood that's home to 5000 people of African heritage, you'll taste breads, porridges, pancakes, sauces and stews from across the continent, as well as shopping for goodies such as berbere spices and Ethiopian coffee. Three hours, $125. foodietrails.com.au

Get lost in the old lanes of Queen Victoria Market

Nothing illustrates Melbourne's fixation with food quite as vividly as a guided walking tour through the 140-year-old Queen Victoria Market. Stroll through the heritage stalls and chat with third-generation traders; sample their wares, from freshly shucked oysters to smoked eggs to gelato shakes. Then digest it all over a glass of wine and wonder why you ever entered a supermarket. Two-hour tours are $69 and include a $5 shopping voucher. qvm.com.au

smh good living, Locavore supplied, jim wilde oysters

Learn the oyster trade with Jim Wild. Photo: Supplied

NSW

Oyster farming at Jim Wild's Oysters

Jim Wild's oyster shed, right on the water in the Shoalhaven seafood port Greenwell Point, is your destination for a close encounter with the bivalves Jim's been farming for 41 years. He'll talk you through the oyster life cycle, show you how to shuck like a pro (he should know – he's a world champion oyster opener)and delve into deeper aquaculture subjects such as river health and rainfall. facebook.com/jimwildsoysterservice

Meet the dairy camels at Camel Milk NSW

Rescued camels have found their happy place on an 1800s hillside homestead in the Hunter Valley's Muswellbrook. At this organic dairy farm, you'll meet Huey the stud bull, his contented ladies and their calves, who stay with their mothers and wean at will. Michelle and Dan Phillips started the business with11 camels saved from slaughter, and now have more than 70, producing gold-medal-winning milk and cheeses. Michelle's an accomplished camel trainer, and offers rides on her blissed-out beasts. Adults $25. camelmilknsw.com.au

Northern Territory

Head out on an Indigenous food safari

The best way to understand traditional bush tucker is on the land, and this unforgettable seven-hour safari by Animal Tracks within Kakadu National Park focuses on gathering bush food with an Indigenous bush tucker expert. Depending on the season, you'll gather yams, grubs, corns and – if you're game – snakes, turtles and other bush meats. Later, you'll turn your bounty into dinner at a traditional sunset campfire cook-up. $220 per adult. animaltracks.com.au

Victoria

Brandy hour at Bass & Flinders

Take a detour from Mornington Peninsula's winery trail to explore Bass & Flinders Distillery and their small-batch, single-vineyard, grape-based spirits. The distillery's new Brandy Masterclass acquaints you with "the winemaker's spirit" through touch, smell and taste. $130 per person for 90 minutes. bassandflindersdistillery.com

Go cray cray

The waters around Port Phillip Bay contain areas where you're permitted to take by hand the big, local southern rock lobster – otherwise known as crayfish – during open season. If you're a competent diver with a fishing license, the crew from Red Boats will take you to the best spots and explain the rules of hunting. redboats.com.au

xxKoomal Koomal Dreaming, Margaret River, WA ; text by Penny Watson ; SUPPLIED via journalist ; Koomal Dreaming’s two and a half-hour Ngilgi Cave Cultural Tour - credit: Tourism WA

Find bush tucker in Wadandi country. Photo: Mark Boskell/Tourism WA

Western Australia

Join a Wadandi food and culture tour

Explore Wadandi country in the Margaret River region with Aboriginal man and local food ambassador Josh Koomal Whiteland. He'll take you on a guided bush walk to forage for seasonal native foods, explain the six Noongar seasons and how they influence eating, before inviting you to join him at a cook-up where you might taste emu, kangaroo, quandong and saltbush. Three hours; adults $155, children $125. koomaldreaming.com.au

Enrol in Giniversity

Residential study at an "academy of gin"? Sign us up. Margaret River Distilling Co. not only produces the excellent Giniversity gin with native local botanicals, but also encourages you to stay in their "campus" of luxury bushland chalets. Their four-hour distillation class lets you work with raw botanicals to create your own gin. $330 including lunch. Accommodation from $180 a night. distillery.com.au